The beginning of the end for Wallonia’s great steel era
26 April 2005
BRUSSELS — A Belgian blast furnace, which was the first of its kind in the world when it was opened, was shut down on Tuesday after 46 years.
When it opened in April 1959 the furnace at Cockerill Sambre in Seraing was the only plant capable of producing 1,500 tonnes of smelted metal in 24 hours.
At about 11.30am on Tuesday, though, furnace number 6 in Liege became the first to be closed by the steel multinational Arcelor as it concentrates on more profitable parts of the steel production process. Other closures are expected to follow in France and Germany.
Back in 2003, the company announced it would focus efforts on its best-performing steel works and earmarked two Liege furnaces for closure: number 6 at Seraing and furnace B, which is based in Ougree.
Since then, unions, the firm’s Liege subcontractors and the Wallonia government have resisted the closures and won some concessions from the company.
The axing of furnace B has been delayed until 2009 and the closure of the Seraing furnace was originally pushed back until July.
However, Arcelor brought forward the closure of Seraing, blaming surplus production at the plant. “We realised that if we didn’t do something we were going to find ourselves with stocks of a million tonnes,” Cockerill’s coke-smelting manager Jacques Neuville told La Libre Belgique.
On Monday, Cockerill started the process of reducing the amount of smelting as it prepared to shut down the furnace.
About 300 workers gathered in front of the site to protest the closure, many wearing black armbands. Wallonia’s economic minister Jean-Claude Marcourt and Seraing mayor Jacques Vandebosch also joined the protestors.
On Tuesday, Cockerill said the furnace would only be reopened if there were problems with furnace B.
Some 350 jobs will go at Seraing and many local sub-contractors say they will struggle to continue since Cockerill is a major client.
According to La Libre Belgique, when furnace B closes more than 2,700 jobs will be lost in the region.
However, Cockerill insists that most workers at the furnaces will either be offered early retirement or will be retrained to work on other steel processes.
[Copyright Expatica 2005]
Subject: Belgian news